Sometimes we picture countries as non vegan-friendly places and Russia could be one of them, right? But what’s the truth?
Last month, I decided to visit one of my dear friends who fell in love with nice Russian guy and moved to Moscow (well, actually a 40 minute train ride from Moscow, but in Russia that is considered as “close to the city centre”). Everyone was asking me the same question: “What the hell are you going to eat there?!” because, let’s face it, Russia is not really known for it’s vegan-friendly cuisine. But with a little bit of effort and insensitiveness to the strange looks of restaurant staff, it is actually not that hard to find decent vegan food.
I have to admit I also had my doubts at first. I remember a Balkan trip I’ve done years ago. When I’ve told people I was a vegetarian, I’ve got asked where I would have got this severe illness from. And if I wanted a sausage instead of meat then.
Anyway, although Russians tend to eat a load of meat and dried fish is very popular, and very gross looking snack, the supermarkets actually do sell some vegan products. I managed to find soy milk, soy pudding, spinach and kale “burgers”. Everything DID cost a small fortune but hey, therefore the vodka was really cheap. Once I had got the eating in sorted out, it was time to see what the Russian restaurants had to offer. HappyCow did give me some options but I have to admit that I didn’t succeed in actually finding any of them. When it comes to women and maps, I’m a walking cliché.
The first place we visited was Stolovaya 57: a Soviet-style buffet restaurant located in the famous Gym mall on the Red Square. Although they did serve “normal” Russian food, there were quite a lot of vegan options like stuffed peppers, buckwheat with mushrooms and salads for which you could pick your dressing afterwards. Not only did the food taste very good, the retro interior of the place (with a hint of humor – trust me, that is something that is not that common in Russia) is also worth the visit. Considering the location and the variety of the menu, it will not surprise you that it tends to get pretty crowded in there.
I have to say that at most breakfast and lunch places it is even hard to find a normal cheese-sandwich, let alone dairy free options. Luckily my friend, who is fluent in Russian, was able to get me wholegrain bread without cheese, meat, eggs and mayonnaise. Ok, people think you’re joking and when they find out you are not, they think you’re an utter freak. And yes, most of the time you end up with a bread roll with just lettuce and tomatoes but it’s food in the end.
Another place I can recommend is in Nizhny Novgorod, which is a four hour train ride from Moscow (if I remember correctly). There we found Woodcock: a little independent coffee bar, which there are not many in Russian cities, with an actual vegan sandwich on their menu! I got very excited at first but then the waitress came to tell us there was no lettuce and no lettuce meant no sandwiches. We would had to wait for an hour for her sister to turn up with fresh lettuce but since there were a lot of things we wanted to see, we decided not too. But it was a cool place, the coffee was very good and there was even an New York Times from 2007.
I know to restaurants tips are not enough for nourishing yourself for a whole trip, but like I said before you can find some good vegan stuff and a lot of good, cheap vegetables and fruit in shops so cooking in the place you’re staying wouldn’t be that much of a hassle. I’m planning to go back soon and I will make sure to bring someone who can read a map so I can give you a review of the HappyCow places later.